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Neuropsychology of Gambling Addiction

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Gambling is a classic risky behaviour, and despite widespread acceptance that ‘the house always wins’, gambling remains a popular and expanding form of entertainment in the UK. It can also become dysfunctional in a small but significant minority of ‘problem gamblers’. This talk will highlight some recent research looking at the brain mechanisms that underlie gambling decisions. I will describe some neuropsychological similarities between problem gamblers, patients with alcohol dependence, and brain-injured patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. I will also describe some brain imaging data looking at how the brain responds to ‘near-miss’ events, which are an important factor in encouraging gamblers to continue to play. These findings illustrate both the fallibility of decision-making mechanisms in the general population,and also the possible routes by which gambling can become an addictive behaviour.

Key refs: Clark L, Lawrence AJ, Astley-Jones F, Gray N. Gambling near-misses enhance motivation to gamble and recruit win-related brain circuitry. Neuron 2009, 61: 481-490. Lawrence AJ, Luty J, Bogdan N,

Sahakian BJ, Clark L. Problem gamblers share deficits in impulsive decision-making with alcohol-dependent individuals. Addiction, 104: 1006-1015.

This talk is part of the Graduate Programme in Cognitive and Brain Sciences series.

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